Sorting Through Milan Search for a Suitable Calhanoglu Replacement

The Milan management are not pulling their hair out for losing Hakan Calhanoglu. However, that does not mean that his loss is insignificant, technically speaking. Despite his inconsistency, the Turk played a pivotal role in Stefano Pioli’s schemes and will have to be replaced properly.

The laundry list of names that have been liked has reached a ridiculous length, with some more believable than others. New candidates are being thrown in left and right in the typical carousel by the press. Some of it is hot air, but it also means that the club has not zeroed in on one or two targets.

The often-unclear strategy of the Elliott fund adds another element of uncertainty. So far, they have signaled that they want to operate like shrewd businessmen, making only investments they consider 100 percent correct. If then they could have the privilege of time, aka a loan spell, to fully evaluate them, all the better.

All of that would seem to suggest that a youngster could be the solution to the enigma. Brahim Diaz is a nice player with a ton of upside, but he is a different type of player than Calhanoglu. As a matter of fact, the two often featured together last season. The Turkish international was the real conductor of the team, especially when Ismael Bennacer was missing. With so many players eager to finalize up front, Milan should be looking for a proper ball-handler and playmaker.

The problem is that contributors with enough charisma to fit the profile are either older or do not come for cheap, or both. For instance, Rodrigo De Paul and Luis Alberto would be tailor-made, but the former is one step away from joining Atletico Madrid, and the latter is 28 and expensive. Two elements that beg the question whether they really are, or were, on the radar.

It would not be surprising if Milan took multiple bites of the apple, adding a couple of pieces that could be useful also in other roles. The Ajax version, and not the Chelsea one, of Hakim Ziyech would be pretty much perfect. But Chelsea signed him for €40M last year, and the price would not much inferior even with a loan plus option to buy.

Dani Ceballos is an intriguing name since he would join with a favorable formula. He is not there yet, but he has untapped potential, and he is 24. On the other hand, he is more of a midfielder and would need to make the leap quickly to have the same weight of Calhanoglu.

James Rodriguez has done well only in certain types of designs, and Pioli always seems to bring the best out of his players. The fee would not be too high since he joined Everton for free last summer, but his salary surely is. Milan want to keep the wages bill in check, and he would have to take a pay cut or dilute the money in a multi-year contract.

The issue is the same for Philippe Coutinho. He, and also Rafinha, have the bonus of previous Serie A experience. But they would be pretty much reclamation projects after difficult seasons.

Lille’s Yusuf Yazici is an excellent player, and Milan have a strong relationship with Lille, but he is more of a second-striker than a trequartista. It does not mean that it would not work out fine anyway, but adjustments would be necessary elsewhere to maintain the same level of passing. The same is true for Amin Adli, plus it would be a huge ask for anybody, even if very talented, to adjust from Ligue 2 to the top level of Serie A in a pivotal role. In his case, the latest reports suggest that he may prefer staying in France this summer.

Marcel Sabitzer would be pretty great, but RB Leipzig is a pricey shop. Matteo Zaccagni got the job done at Verona, and he would not be super expensive. He is 26, and he might not have much room to grow, although he would benefit from having better talent around him. He makes more sense in a duo than on his own. Another Serie A talent might do the trick better: Mikkel Damsgaard. He thrived in a central role with Denmark after having limited opportunities there with Sampdoria, where he mostly played as a winger. Milan would have to wait a little for him to develop fully, though.